Malaysia grants access to detained Filipinos in Sabah-A A +A
Friday, March 22, 2013
MANILA (Updated) - After repeated Philippine appeals, Malaysia has finally allowed Philippine government officials to visit detained Filipinos in Sabah, days after a territorial row turned violent and sparked a bloody Malaysian crackdown.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said Malaysia has granted Manila’s request this week for access to all the detained Filipinos in Sabah, including the eight who have been charged with terrorism-related offenses.
The eight were the first to face charges since close to 200 followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III sailed to the coastal town of Lahad Datu in Sabah from Tawi-Tawi on February 12 to press claim over the resource-rich territory now controlled by Malaysia.
At least 100 more Filipinos are in Malaysian custody, according to reports.
Hernandez said a note verbale was sent by the Malaysian Foreign Ministry to the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur in March 20 to inform the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) that charges have been filed against the eight suspects.
The names of the eight suspects - charged for waging war against Malaysia's king and for being part of a terrorist group - are in the note verbale, said Hernandez but declined to reveal their identities.
Malaysia’s diplomatic note also informed the embassy that consular access to the eight Filipinos and others who have been detained for investigations under relevant Malaysian laws will be granted to the embassy in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
“The Ministry will advise our embassy of the procedures of the access in due course,” Hernandez said, adding the government is hoping that this “will be done soon.”
It was not clear if the eight are among Kiram’s followers or among those who have provided support to the men in Sabah, which is home to around 800,000 Filipino settlers.
“It is very important to have full access to the eight and the other Filipino detainees in Lahad Datu to know their conditions and make sure that their rights are protected and their welfare are also upheld,” Hernandez said.
The DFA is considering hiring private lawyers for other Filipinos facing charges, he said, adding the agency will shoulder the expenses.
Hernandez added the Malaysian Bar Council also pledged to help the Filipinos who have been charged in Sabah.
According to Malaysia, dozens of Kiram’s followers have been killed in firefights and nine fatalities from the Malaysian police and security personnel.
“We have to find out who, when, where and what. Those are the things we want to know when we get full access,” Hernandez said.
Kiram said he sent his followers to Sabah to reclaim their homeland as efforts to get it back from Malaysia has been relegated to the backburner by the Philippine government.
The sultan said his forebears leased Sabah to a British company in the 1870’s but was illegally annexed by Great Britain which then handed over the territory to Malaysia when it gained independence from the British Crown in 1963.
Malaysian airstrikes nearly three weeks ago followed by ground assault have forced Kiram’s men, led by his younger brother Agbimuddin, to flee Lahad Datu to neighboring towns while a few have been reported to have slipped back to Tawi-Tawi.
Some 249 more Filipinos from troubled Sabah arrived in Tawi-Tawi last Tuesday, bringing the total returnees to 3,704, the Department of Social Welfare and Development said Friday. (PNA/Sunnex)